Swelling lake may cause more floods in Pakistan

ISLAMABAD — More flooding is expected in southern Pakistan, where Lake Manchar has swelled from unprecedented monsoon rains that began in mid-June, officials warned Sunday. So far, the flood has killed nearly 1,300 people.

Meteorologists predicted more rain in the region in the coming days and authorities urged villagers in Jamshoro and Dadu districts of Sindh province near the lake to evacuate. The rising waters reached dangerous levels and posed a threat to a protective levee and embankment, they said. The lake, located west of the Indus River, is the largest natural freshwater lake in Pakistan and one of the largest in Asia.

Fariduddin Mustafa, district administrator of Jamshoro, said on Sunday that officials made a cut in the embankment of the lake to allow excess water to escape and eventually flow into the Indus. Even so, the water continues to rise, he said.

Parts of Dadu district have already been flooded, officials said.

“After we judged that the water levels had reached (a) dangerous level … and there were apprehensions that the embankment of the lake could collapse at any time, the administration decided to make a cut on the side of Bagh-e-Yousuf to prevent any uncontrollable flow of water,” he said.

Sharjeel Inam Memon, information minister for Sindh province, explained that the cut was made to protect the nearby city of Sehwan and the city of Bhan Saedabad, with a combined population of half a million people. The diverted water will instead affect villages in the region with a total population of 150,000.

The Pakistan Army said in a statement on Sunday that army engineers are engaged in strengthening the banks of Lake Manchar.

The development comes a day after Pakistan again appealed to the international community to help victims of unprecedented monsoon floods that have left nearly 1,300 people dead and millions homeless across the country. Planes from multiple countries are bringing supplies into the impoverished country via a humanitarian airlift.

Many officials and experts have blamed climate change for the unusual monsoon rains and floods, including UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres, who last week urged the world to stop “sleepwalking” through the deadly crisis. He will visit Pakistan on September 9 to tour flood-affected areas and meet officials.

In its latest report, Pakistan’s National Disaster Management Authority put the death toll since mid-June – when monsoon rains began weeks earlier this year – at 1,290, as more victims were reported from flood-hit areas of Sindh, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and Balochistan. The report said 453 children were among the dead.

Prime Minister Shahbaz Sharif, who has been visiting flood-affected areas and humanitarian camps daily, tweeted on Sunday that as Pakistan grapples with the worst disaster caused by climate change, children are among the worst affected.

“With over 400 dead (children), they make up a third of the total number of deaths. Now they are at even greater risk of water-borne diseases, UNICEF and other global agencies must help,” Shahbaz said.

Authorities said relief and rescue operations continued Sunday with troops and volunteers using helicopters and boats to take stranded people from flooded areas to relief camps where they were provided with shelter, food and health care.

Dozens of relief camps have been set up in government buildings serving tens of thousands of people, while thousands more have found roadside shelter on high ground.

Hira Ikram, a doctor at a camp set up by the British Islamic Mission in Sukkur, said medical professionals were seeing scabies, gastrointestinal infections and fever as more common occurrences in the camp.

The Alkidmat Foundation, a welfare organization, said its volunteers were using boats to deliver ready-to-eat meals and other aid to residents as well as animal feed to a small island in the Indus. The group also distributed food and items needed by people left homeless and living by the roadside.

In the northwestern part of the country, in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, the provincial disaster management authority warned of more rain, possible flash floods and landslides next week in Malakand and Hazara districts. Taimur Khan, a spokesman for the authorities, urged residents on Sunday not to go to any of the areas that have already been flooded in recent weeks.

Initial government estimates put the devastation at $10 billion in damage, but Planning Minister Ahsan Iqbal said Saturday that “the scale of the devastation is enormous and requires a massive humanitarian response for 33 million people.”

The renewed request for international aid came after Pakistan received 35 planes carrying humanitarian goods from Turkey, China, the United Arab Emirates, France, Uzbekistan and other countries. More planes are expected in the coming days. The last cargo flight landed on Sunday evening at Lahore airport with tons of relief goods from the UAE.

Two members of Congress, Sheila Jackson and Tom Suzy, are expected to arrive in Pakistan on Sunday to visit flood-affected areas and meet with officials.

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